A Little Bit of Korea through Tae Kwon Do

by Luanne

When our Korean-born children were six and two, we moved from southwestern Michigan, where it wasn’t uncommon to see families forged by international adoption, to a community in southern California where it was extremely rare.  My husband and I were both full-time students, worked, and had long commutes, so time to educate ourselves and our children in Korean culture was very limited.

We did make the drive to Los Angeles to visit the Korean Cultural Center as often as we could.  What a fantastic resource!  We borrowed videos of Korean dance and ballet.  Since Marisha was dancing by then, we hoped that these tapes would offset the ballets featuring primarily white dancers which she had been watching.

Hubby and I insisted that the kids attend Korean language class at a local church.  We bought some basic textbooks and the kids attended once a week.  But they went in knowing absolutely zero Korean and, unfortunately, their teacher didn’t know a single word of English.  The pictures in one of the books apparently didn’t work because what the kids had understood to be the Korean word for shoe, pronounced goo-doo, sent a Korean girl Marisha met a couple of years later into hysterics.  Apparently, it wasn’t the correct word.  I don’t know if I want to know what it means.

White belt and little no belt

A year after we moved to California, a Korean Tae Kwon Do Master opened a dojang (Tae Kwon Do studio) up the block from our house.  Marc started attending classes, where he learned the basics of a sport which has integrated certain aspects of the Korean culture.  Then Marisha won a free month of classes and joined her brother at Tae Kwon Do. The kids learned to bow and show proper respect, as well as some Korean words and philosophies.  At the frequent potlucks, our family enjoyed Korean dishes, such as Bulgogi (beef BBQ) and Kimchi (a fermented spiced cabbage).  Both kids earned their Black Belts in the sport.

According to Marc, one of the best parts of the experience was that when he was a young teen he got to travel to Korea with his dad and a few others from the dojang under the guidance of the Master who was now Grand Master.  The trip was split between staying at the Grand Master’s mother’s apartment in Seoul and staying at a hotel on a tour to see Cheju Island.  They also were able to practice Tae Kwon Do at the Kukkiwon, which is World Tae Kwon Do Headquarters, training with the Spanish, Italian, Mexican, and Korean Olympic teams.  It is one thing to tour Korea with an American group, but another to travel with a Korean friend and stay in the friend’s family home.

Seoul’s streets were very crowded.  At one point, hubby looked at Marc and said, “Look around you.  If you get lost, I will have a hard time finding you.”  This was the first time Marc had experienced being in crowds of Koreans, of being able to get lost in the crowd, so to speak.  And it was the first time his Dad had to worry about that.

Seoul Neighborhood

On Cheju Island, the guys watched seafood being caught in the ocean and brought up on shore, where it was promptly served up to tourists.   Here are some of their photos.

Cheju Island

Seafood at the beach

Yakcheonsa Temple, Cheju

Interior, Yakcheonsa Temple

The beauty of Korea


  1. Lisa DeNike Ercolano says:

    I love this blog post, because it discusses an issue that many of us adoptive parents grapple with, which is how to best connect our children to the culture of their country of origin. We never considered enrolling Juliet (born in China) to martial arts, and now I am wondering why! It sounds like Marc and Marisha had great experiences and the trip to Korea looks to have been amazing. (Gotta find out what goo-doo really means, though!)

    • Juliet would be a natural with her dance talent. I’m so jealous that I didn’t get to go on the trip. Thanks so much for reading, Lisa!

  2. Sweet memories, Luanne, and beautiful photos of your children and Korea.

    • Wilma, thank you so much for being such a loyal reader and friend. It’s kind of funny about the photos from Korea. At home the only photography Marshal does is when I stick the camera in his hand and say “push this button” when I want to be in a shot with someone. Then it’s always an awful pic. But the ones he took in Korea are beautiful! Maybe it’s the subject . . . .

  3. Thanks for sharing!!! 🙂

  4. Darcy Pavlack says:

    Korea was Andrew’s first deployment!! He loved it so much that he stayed for two years. The reason he loved Korea so much was that he made it his goal to learn the language, the culture & the people of Korea. He also trained with a “master” to learn some form of kick boxing…where he actually competed. Once again, a similiar thread between our two families..(hope I’m not over reaching!!!)

    • Darcy, i can’t tell you how much I love this. Definitely not over reaching! Our families are bonded together forever. Thinking back to baby showers, etc. Maybe you can ask Andy if he knows what “goo doo” means hahahaha. Or what the correct word for shoe is!

  5. corinne trow says:

    Love the photos and story Luanne!

  6. Carole Renee Hasz says:

    This is a very nice tribute to your children. The photos of Korea are beautiful. Your children are adorable. I’ve dabbled through the years with my son and daughter in the cultural events that were available, but a trip to visit my children’s birthplace will be the ultimate in experiencing the culture. Thanks for sharing your memories. Carole R. H.

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